Costs: Short Run and Long Run

In the short run costs are fixed; in the long run they become variable. This is the fundamental difference between long run and short run. The distinction is a matter of degree. The longer the run contemplated, the greater the range of costs regarded as variable rather than fixed.

Consider a manufacturing firm. Toward the variable cost end are the expenses of inputs like electric power, supplies of material, and ordinary labor services; toward the fixed end are costs associated of supplies or breakdown of machinery calls for a very short, say an hour’s, reduction of output. Some electric power would be saved in the slowdown, and there would be reduced usage of materials, but little else could or would be changed. If output were to be cut back over a period as long as a day, some labor might also be laid off. Over a period like a month a large function of the labor force might be furloughed (their wages would become a variable cost), and perhaps some leased equipment like trucks would be dispensed with. Finally, for a permanent reduction in output the firm will sell off machinery and scale down its real-estate commitments.

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